Gujarat High Court gets tough on illegal mining in and around Girnar reserve forest, seeks report from Junagadh Collector by January 25

Published : January 01, 2021 21:23 IST

In the Girnar wildlife sanctuary in Junagadh, Gujarat, an Asiatic lion on a Palash (Flame of the Forest) tree, photographed by a forest guard in March 2019. Photo: DIPAK VADHER

The reserved forest area of Girnar in Junagadh district of Gujarat has been under threat from illegal mining activities for many years. Now a public interest litigation petition heard by the Gujarat High Court has received some positive directions which, it is hoped, will halt the “illegal mining and blasting activities” being carried out in Chhodvadi village in Bhesan block of the district. Apart from being illegal, the mining, which is primarily of limestone, is just about 800 meters away from the Girnar wildlife sanctuary.

The petition was moved by Sanjay Bhikhubhai Kapadiya, a Junagadh resident who is an environmentalist and an RTI activist. The petitioner said the local authorities had been informed of the illegal activities but had taken no action. Hearing the PIL, the Gujarat High Court, on December 11, directed the local authorities to stop all illegal mining and quarrying activities in the reserved forest areas of Girnar,

Girish Das, advocate for the petitioner, submitted to the court that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, had issued a notification in 2012 for the long-term protection and conservation of Asiatic lions that live in the nearby Gir Protected Area, their last sanctuary in India. Clause 3 of the notification lists the activities that are prohibited, regulated, and permitted in ecosensitive zones like Girnar and Gir. The clause states that no mining and crushing activities will be allowed within the ecosensitive zone nor will any major changes in the landscape be allowed that may affect the hydrology and ecology of the region.

Referring to the notification, the division bench hearing the PIL said that it had been issued with an objective of “long term protection and conservation of the Asiatic lions and also the rare and endangered biological diversity” of the region. The bench hinged its directive on the 2012 document, saying that “the notification states that it is necessary to conserve and protect the area around the protected area of Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary as an ecosensitive zone….”

The High Court directed the authorities concerned to take appropriate steps if any such illegal mining and crushing activities are going on within the ecosensitive zone. The court also issued a notice and asked the Collector, Junagadh, and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden to file a report on January 25 about the illegal quarrying and mining activities in and around Girnar’s reserve forest.

The Girnar wildlife sanctuary is about 70 kms from the Gir Protected Area, and wildlife moves with ease between them through a corridor that passes through Chhodvadi village where the illegal mining and blasting is taking place.

Wildlife and natural areas in Gujarat have been under pressure for a long while with the industry-oriented State turning a blind eye to many violations. Those who have fought to uphold the law have faced violence and, in at least one notable case, death. On July 20, 2010, Amit Jethava, who had filed a PIL against the illegal mining interests of the then Member of Parliament Dinu Boga Solanki of the BJP, was shot dead outside the High Court in Ahmedabad. Solanki was convicted for the murder in 2019 and is serving a jail term. The case was a landmark one and will be the touchstone for similar cases that will arise.

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